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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Stephon Marbury: Insert Your Own Punchline

Stephon Marbury says that collecting roughly $18 million from the New York Knicks for not playing for the team in the 2008-09 season "mentally damaged" him. You cannot make this stuff up; just insert your own punchline--and I'll even give you a head start by quoting a statement Marbury made four years ago: "I'm telling you what it is: I know I'm the best point guard in the NBA. I don't need anybody else to tell me that." Are we supposed to believe that Marbury was not "mentally damaged" when he made that statement?

The best thing that New York Coach Mike D'Antoni did last year--and the thing that I said for years that the Knicks should do--was banish Marbury, even with the Knicks getting nothing in return; this was the ultimate example of "addition by subtraction." The funny thing is that even though the Marbury-less Knicks won nine more games than they did in their scandal-scuttled 2008 season, their 32 victories fell one short of the team's win total in 2006-07--and the reason for that, as I explained near the end of the 2009 season, is that D'Antoni juiced up New York's offense but he did nothing to improve the team's leaky defense. They scored a lot more points and they got off to a 6-3 start by beating teams like Charlotte, Washington, Memphis and Oklahoma City, but they could not guard anyone and down the stretch they fell apart like an old folding chair trying to support the weight of a sumo wrestler: the Knicks went 4-13 in the last month of the season. The Knicks' problem is so obvious that even the admittedly "mentally damaged" Marbury knows what's up: "That system can't win championships. You can't win championships if you don't talk about defense. In Boston, the coaches even play defense.''

Mike D'Antoni is a very good coach. He understands that a coach has to work with the material provided to him; his Steve Nash-led Suns were never going to be a defensive juggernaut, so D'Antoni ramped up the tempo, ran teams off of the court during the regular season--and then suffered annually during the playoffs versus a well-rounded Spurs team that could play offense at any tempo and always played good defense. The Knicks probably did not have the necessary personnel last year to be a great defensive team, so D'Antoni once again floored the accelerator, scored as many points as possible and hoped for the best--but if the Knicks are ever going to rise out of the mediocrity that they have been mired in for nearly a decade then Donnie Walsh must acquire some defensive-minded players and Coach D'Antoni must prove that he is willing and able to implement some kind of effective defensive system.

Everyone understands that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Knicks is LeBron James--but James knows that ultimately his legacy will be determined by whether or not he wins multiple championships and James also knows that you have to play team defense to win championships. Anyone who thinks that James will go to a team that does not have a defensive mindset is more "mentally damaged" than Marbury is. The Knicks have one year to prove that they are putting together the type of program that can annually contend for titles; otherwise, even if James leaves Cleveland he will certainly not go to New York, because the last thing that James wants is to be on the list of the greatest players who never won a championship.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:52 AM

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